Oenophilia – An obsessive disorder or just a way of life?

Swirl, Sniff, and Spit with your friend, Patrick

Wine in Context, Dinner in Context

I adore wine. I taste wine and share my opinions on particular wines with anyone who reads this blog. Nonetheless, to me the most important quality in a wine is how it tastes with and affects accompanying food. We don’t always eat elaborately well-planned meals that we have perfectly paired with a wine that was suggested by a Master Sommelier. Sometimes we just eat dinner. Inspired by the recent writings of Jill at Domaine 547, here’s a look at last night’s “It’s 6:30. What should have for dinner?”

I opened up the refrigerator door and found not much. I opened up the pantry and found not much. I opened the door to consider a trip to the grocery store and found much: a constant downpour that made me close the door and pray to the muse of culinary inspiration. Looks like a pasta night.

We are blessed here in this little town of Healdsburg in that I have many shopping alternatives in the SLO food movement – Sustainable, Local, and Organic. I try to stay away from chains and supermarkets and do as much of my shopping in locally-owned small businesses as possible. This keeps my little green conscience slightly assuaged from all the other ways in which my size 13 carbon footprint stomps on dear old Gaia. However, sometimes I do get pulled in by the glamour of Whole Foods and the bargain quirkiness of Trader Joe’s. So I reached for Trader Giotto’s (Joe’s, for those not up on the lingo) Italian Tomato Starter Sauce – basically Pasta alla Checca in a box. Pretty yummy on its own, but I felt a need to justify my existence in the kitchen so I added a pinch of Persian Allspice from Boulettes Larder in the S.F. Ferry Building Foodie Orgy Fest. This powdered blend of rosepetals, cinnamon, cardamon, and cumin have made me look oh, so much of a better cook than I am on many an occasion. The result was poured over some pasta (imported from Italy, so it could have have a carbon footprint of as much as 2000 lbs of CO2) and served up with some rock-hard Reggiano from the back of the cheese drawer. In the end, pretty yummy.

As a winemaker who often reviews wines, I have made a point of not reviewing any wines I have had a hand in making. However, since I am just telling you about my dinner, I will make an exception. We popped open a bottle of my wife’s Chateau Felice 2002 Zinfandel Reserve from her family’s Chalk Hill estate; we both worked at CF from its inception until October of 2006. This wine is a zin made in the elegant “claret” style – not big, jammy, sweet, or high in alcohol. It is, though, quite a mouthful that is packed with a broad range of fruit and spice and finishes with great acid.

Then we had it with the aforementioned Persian-spiced Tomato Checca. Disaster! The wine tasted hot, sharp, and way too acidic. Bummer. My wife sadly attributed it to the wine seeming to have passed its prime early. I defended her -“Good Husband! Good Boy!” – and immediately decided it was not the wine, but the pairing. Ta Da! This is a job for SUPER GEEK! I pulled one of my old tricks from my super utility belt and dashed a little balsamic vinegar and a little sea salt on the tomato sauce. Lo and behold…the zinfandel was tasting pretty darn good and we dined happily ever after. Well, at least until I had to endure the screams as I brushed my five year-old’s long curly hair before bed.

So what happened? My buddy’s gypsy-godmother’s trick of using the sweetness of balsamic with a little extra salt at the table adjusted how I perceived the acids in both wine and sauce and made them compatible. I’ve tried this trick with ratatouille, asparagus, and several other stereotypical pairing faux-pas and it has worked every time. The best result of this dining adventure? I did, in fact get to enjoy a yummy wine that otherwise would have gotten poured into the carboy we keep to make our own aromatic red wine vinegar.


1 Comment»

  Jill wrote @

wow, hard to believe I inspired anything! But I’m thrilled to learn I’m in such good company in the impromptu food and wine pairing category (though your solution had some science to back it, and mine was pure chance…).

this week’s dinners led to no interesting discoveries re: wine, as I took the week off from the drink.



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